There are six main eras in Music: Medieval music, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th Century classical.
It is by far the longest era of classical music, stretches from 500AD to 1400, a time span of 900 years. Significant development happened during this era was that the music was notated for the first time ever, allowing musical information to spread much more easily. Art at this time was tied closely with religion, and the main form of music in this era was Gregorian chant, or plainsong, which was sung by monks during Mass in the Catholic Church. The music was monophonic, meaning that it contained just a single melodic line, sung in unison, with no accompanying harmony parts or instrumental accompaniment. Polyphonic music (which has two or more simultaneous independent melodic parts) began to develop in the second half of the Medieval period.
Renaissance music is vocal and instrumental music written and performed in Europe during the Renaissance era. Music was increasingly freed from medieval constraints, and more variety was permitted in range, rhythm, harmony, form, and notation. In the Renaissance, music became a vehicle for personal expression. Composers found ways to make vocal music more expressive of the texts they were setting. Religious music was still ubiquitous, but secular music increased in popularity, as composers were allowed to write creative music for its own sake, and the invention of the printing press allowed for more widespread distribution. Technological developments in instrument making gave ensembles access to larger ranges and increased textural variety, and harmony became richer, as it started to sound a little closer to the kind functional tonality that we use today. From the Renaissance era, notated secular and sacred music survives in quantity, including vocal and instrumental works and mixed vocal/instrumental works. A wide range of musical styles and genres flourished during the Renaissance, including masses, motets, madrigals, chansons, accompanied songs, instrumental dances, and many others.
Baroque music is a period or style of Western art music. Many of the forms and structures established during this period, including opera and concertos, would become mainstays of classical music over the following centuries. “Common practice harmony”, the functional tonal system that would remain prevalent through the Classical and Romantic periods, was also established. The pieces composed for the harpsichord, the predecessor to the piano, were ornate contrapuntal (another word for polyphonic), an archetypal sound of the Baroque period.
The Baroque period saw the creation of common-practice tonality, an approach to writing music in which a song or piece is written in a particular key; this type of harmony has continued to be used extensively in Western classical and popular music. During the Baroque era, professional musicians were expected to be accomplished improvisers of both solo melodic lines and accompaniment parts. Baroque music expanded the size, range, and complexity of instrumental performance, and also established the mixed vocal/instrumental forms of opera, cantata and oratorio and the instrumental forms of the solo concerto and sonata as musical genres. Dense, complex polyphonic music, in which multiple independent melody lines were performed simultaneously (a popular example of this is the fugue), was an important part of many Baroque choral and instrumental works. Overall, Baroque music was a tool for expression and communication.
It is mainly homophonic, using a clear melody line over a subordinate chordal accompaniment, but counterpoint was by no means forgotten, especially later in the period. It also makes use of style galant which emphasized light elegance in place of the Baroque’s dignified seriousness and impressive grandeur. Variety and contrast within a piece became more pronounced than before and the orchestra increased in size, range, and power with the addition of proper woodwind sections.
The harpsichord was replaced as the main keyboard instrument by the piano (or fortepiano). Melody was now the order of the day: simple, elegant tunes and highly elegant tunes organised in neat, balanced phrases, in contrast to the complexity of the Baroque era.
The Romantic Period saw composers free themselves from the restrictive conventions of the Classical era, working on a grander scale with much more expressive and emotive content.
In this era the trend for programmatic works continued, with music inspired by nature, literature, legends, national identity and other non-musical stimuli. Romantic composers sought to create music that was individualistic, emotional, dramatic and often programmatic; reflecting broader trends within the movements of Romantic literature, poetry, art, and philosophy.
A vast range of totally new and radical music came out of the 20th Century, as composers reacted in different ways to the conventions and traditions of previous decades. In music, modernism is an aesthetic stance underlying the period of change and development in musical language. It is a period of diverse reactions in challenging and reinterpreting older categories of music, innovations that led to new ways of organizing and approaching harmonic, melodic, sonic, and rhythmic aspects of music, and changes in aesthetic worldviews in close relation to the larger identifiable period of modernism in the arts of the time. Its leading feature is a “linguistic plurality”, which is to say that no one music genre ever assumed a dominant position.